The Year I Lost Emma

Dealing with the loss of someone you love. Author Joanne Fedler shares about losing her dear friend Emma.


Joanne Fedler

Scan0015I don’t know the name for this loss. People say, “it’s the suddenness, the shock” Or “she was so young, that’s what you’re mourning.” Or ‘it’s the tragedy that she was a few weeks pregnant after two grueling years of IVF,’ or ‘she babysat your children and looked after you when you had pneumonia.’ Inside my ribs, something clenches at unexpected moments, startling me every time as if I’d only just learned that my girlfriend Emma has died. There are times I don’t believe it, as if the universe has made up a cruel lie.

I become strangled and asthmatic when I think of her husband, her parents, her brother and sister and the bottomless agony they are breathing with each inhalation. That’s serious big-time Grief. I saw her a couple of times a year at most.  She was ten years younger than me, newly married, and lived over the bridge. We touched base on Facebook, left each other texts and phone messages in between our busy schedules. So how do I quantify this loss?

I sift through my memories of Emma, like I’m panning for gold, wanting not to unremember any tiny detail of our friendship: big eyes, big earrings, red curls and huge sunglasses. Sundresses with shoestring straps. Arriving at my house with a whole box of Krispy Kreme donuts and ‘I’m not leaving til we’ve eaten the lot.’ Pale blue chiffon dress, ‘OMG, it was SO gorgeous, I had to have it,’ (despite her meager nurse’s salary). Raucous throw-your-head back giggles. Her sobbing at my wedding. She was a ridiculous romantic.

When a bad pap smear catapulted me into mortal fear, I told my husband to marry her if I died, because the children loved her (when she was still single).

Once she’d seen a young woman get run over by a bus and she comforted her until the ambulance came. When Emma heard that the young woman had died, she decided to become a nurse.

I love that story.

When I told my son Emma had died, he burst into tears and said, ‘If I’d known she was going to die, I would’ve paid more attention to her the last time I saw her.’

She would have loved that.

At her funeral, her husband told us that in the hours before her death, in a hospital in France, she asked him, ‘Do you think that when we die, God comes down to take our hand?’ She believed in fairies and angels.

Many of my books are about women’s friendships, and how they hold us together. Emma was one of the spirits that animated my first book Secret Mothers’ Business.

Sula, one of my favourite Toni Morrison books ends with Nel seeing her childhood friend Sula being buried from a distance and then:

Suddenly Nel stopped. Her eye twitched and burned a little.

‘Sula?’ she whispered, gazing at the tops of trees. ‘Sula?’

Leaves stirred; mud shifted; there was the smell of overripe green things. A soft ball of fur broke and scattered like dandelion spores in the breeze.

…. And the loss pressed down on her chest and came up into her throat. ‘We was girls together,’ she said, as if explaining something. ‘O Lord, Sula,’ she cried. ‘girl, girl, girlgirlgirl.’

It was a fine cry – loud and long – but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.’

A few weeks after Emma died, I dreamed about her. I hugged her tight, and cried into her hair,’ Oh Em, they told me you had died.’ And she threw her head back and laughed wildly. ‘Silly, she said, ‘I’m right here.’